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Sep 28, 2011

Creating Believable Magician Characters

Today we have a guest post by Rayne Hall. Rayne Hall is a traditionally published author, who has recently made the move to self-publishing for her latest dark fantasy Storm Dancer, which is only $0.99 on Amazon and definitely worth reading. She also teaches writing classes, which I highly recommend. She is an excellent teacher. You can find out more about the classes below, or on this site:

Creating Believable Magician Characters
by Rayne Hall

Does your story have a magician - a shaman, a sorcerer, a necromancer, a ritual wizard, a theurgist, a miracle worker or a witch? The traits which make them effective magicians shape their personality. Here are ten tips for their characterisation. Your magician should have most - not necessarily all - of these character traits.

Although I'm using the female pronoun for this article, everything applies regardless of gender.

1. Intelligent
Magic requires a sharp intellect, critical thinking, critical analysis, the ability to make difficult decisions, and a good memory.

2. Creative
Magicians need to adapt existing spells and rituals to new situations.

3. Self-disciplined and focused
A magician needs to be able to concentrate and shut out distractions, even under difficult circumstances. A good magician possesses enormous self-control and is able to resist temptations. She is probably the kind of person who can stick with a diet and never goofs off to play computer games until the current job is done.

4. Patient
The study of magic requires endless practice and repeats, most of them boring, so impatient people drop out of the training before they achieve much. A good magician can spend hours sitting still, watching a candle flame or listening to the sound of the wind in the trees if that's what the spell requires.

5. Highly trained
Mere talent is not enough. Magic requires intense, prolonged study and practice. If she's a powerful magician, she has probably studied magic for many years.

6. Specialist
She is probably highly skilled in one particular area such as improving livestock, changing the weather, building wealth, protection, or healing.

7. Musical
Many forms of magic involve drumming or chanting; it helps if she has an ear for tunes and a strong sense of rhythm.

8. Spiritual
Most forms of magic are linked with religious practice. Your magician may be devoutly religious and begin every ritual with a prayer. Even if she's an atheist, she probably engages in spiritual practices such as meditation.

9. Studious
Magicians are always keen to learn more - expanding their own skills range, acquiring new spells, understanding other forms of magic, exploring natural and philosophical subjects. Whenever she can, she seeks instruction in some subject or other. She can often be found with her head in a book, and if your story is set in a pre-literate period, she listens avidly to bards and storytellers.

10. Well-organised and methodical
The best magicians always have information and ingredients at hand and know where to find them, and they have their equipment assembled before they begin the ritual. They keep careful records of the ingredients and exact wording used in every spell, and they measure the results.

11. Introvert
Most magicians like quietude and solitude. Given the choice, your magician probably prefers spending time alone in nature over partying with noisy crowds. After a night in close company with many people, she needs a day alone in nature to recharge her energies. She may even be a loner.

12. Ethical
Magic gives a person enormous power, and requires moral judgement to apply this power wisely and for the good. All magicians have ethic codes of conduct, and they take them seriously. These may be based on their religion, the principles of their form of magic, the rules of their coven, or their individual conscience. Modern magicians often follow the principles 'Harm none' and 'Don't interfere with someone's free will'. Some consider it wrong to accept money for magic. In other cultures and periods, other rules applied. If writing about a fantasy world, you can invent rules. You can create powerful conflicts if your magician's goal conflicts with her ethics. Perhaps the only way to help her child/rescue her lover/save the world is to do something against her conscience and against her magic's rules. Even the villain of your story, the evil sorcerer, abides by strict ethical rules. You can have fun inventing them, for example 'Be kind to animals' (hurting humans is ok), 'Never harm a minor' (wait until they're eighteen), 'Never sacrifice a virgin girl' (deprive her of her virginity first).

13. Sharp senses
Your magician probably has keen eyesight and good ears, and her senses of smell, touch and taste are more refined than those of most people. This natural ability has probably been refined over years of practice. Now she can recognise barks by how they feel in the hand, and identify crumbs of dried herbs by their smell.

14. Descended from magicians
Magical talent is often, though not always, genetically inherited. Perhaps her parents and siblings are also magicians, or perhaps her revered great-grandmother was a famous witch.

15. Psychic
Although magical and psychic gifts are separate matters, many magicians have a some psychic abilities as well.

16. Day Job
Few magicians can make a living from their magic. Most have day-jobs. Surprisingly many modern magicians work in the healing arts: nurses, doctors, aromatherapists, complementary medicine practitioners, massage therapists. Others are employed in scientific or engineering fields (using their analytical minds) or they work the arts (using their creativity).

All magicians are different. You can choose which of those traits suit your magician's character profile and your story's plot.

If you have questions creating magician characters, if you want feedback for an idea, or if you need help with an aspect of magic in your WiP, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will answer questions.

About Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall teaches an online workshop 'Writing about Magic and Magicians'. Create believable magicians (good and evil), fictional spells which work, and plot complications when the magic goes wrong. Learn about high and low magic, witches and wizards, circle-casting and power-raising, initiation and training, tools and costumes, science and religion, conflicts and secrecy, love spells and sex magic, and apply them to your novel. This is a 4-week class with 12 lessons and practical assignments. If you wish, you may submit a scene for critique at the end of the workshop.
The next dates for this workshop are:
October 2011: Celtic Hearts RWA  
March 2012: Lowcountry RWA
April 2013: Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal:

Rayne's other workshops include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Scary Scenes' and 'The Low Word Diet'. For an updated listed of her upcoming workshops, go to

Sep 9, 2011

9/11 Ruminations

Last year, this was my 9-11 Post:

On September 11, 2001, I was living overseas. I remember that a local newspaper carried the headline, the next day, "Superman Cries." I very much wanted to buy a copy, but I had other priorities at the time. My mom was scheduled to be on an airplane on that day, and I was trying to track her down, make sure she was safe (she was), and then I spent a lot of time on the phone or trying to get online to talk it over with her and other loved ones. By the time I tried to pick up a copy of the newspaper, they were sold out.

It's interesting that at a moment like that, people would turn to a fictional character to try to make sense of the tragedy. They could have used the Statue of Liberty or Uncle Sam, the more usual allegorical figures of nationhood, but instead featured the comicbook Superman, with a single tear.

* * *

I included a link to this emotional timeline of 9-11 from Mind Hacks.

What I did not discuss was my own emotional timeline.

I happened to be in a Muslim country, as a humanitarian volunteer. We found out when one volunteer received a text message from her boyfriend. The local, government controlled television had no news about it, so we had to drive to a hotel to watch CNN. I was terrified because my mom was supposed to be on a plane to Washington D.C. that day. At another table, a group of drunk men were laughing. Yes, LAUGHING. 

The feeling I had, worrying that my mom might be dead, feeling my country was under attack, listening to people laugh as the news showed the planes crashing into the building... I experienced a terrible helpless rage. I had never felt that way before. I am generally not a rage-full person. In college I travelled to Nepal and studied compassion meditation at a Buddhist nunnery. A few months before 9/11, while living on the streets to experience what it was like to be homeless (answer: it sucks), I had been mugged, and using satyagraha techniques of nonviolent engagement, ended up chatting with my mugger to the point he started crying and telling me about his abusive childhood and how his religious sister wanted better for him. I came out of the experience, if anything, more convinced of the goodness of every human soul than before.

But on 9/11, my compassion deserted me. All I felt was horror, grief and rage.

I did not want to feel that way, and so I felt doubly violated, because I felt as if I lost my innocence as well as my illusions of safety.  When I returned to the States, I had a different view on a lot of things. Not just because of 9-11... I had also lived in a war zone, met with men who had been tortured, and met the men who done the torturing and smiled about it... I had seen a lot of evil, and it wasn't so easy for me to believe in the goodness of every human soul anymore. I had been exposed to so much virulent anti-Americanism that I became hyper-sensitive to it, and I fought with a lot of long time friends for whom anti-American one-up-manship is a harmless past time, like bowling or "yo' mama" jokes. By the way, I still shiver whenever anyone makes an anti-American comment, so if you tweet one or post it to Facebook, I will do my best not to reply. We would just fight, and that's not what I want or who I want to be.

For a long time, I wondered if I would ever feel "normal" again. Every year, when 9-11 rolled around, all those feelings crashed back down on me again.

Then I noticed a strange thing. This year as the anniversary came around, I didn't feel enraged. In fact, it was hard to remember the anger I felt in those days. It wasn't until I read Maria Zannini's blog post that I felt a jolt.

Perversely, I then worried about the fact that I couldn't remember what it felt like. Is that like betraying the memory of what happened? But that's absurd, isn't it? To want to hold on to the anger? How can you not betray those feelings yet stop being a slave to them?

Well... I am a writer. I realized maybe the time had come to write something. I had enough distance, yet could still capture those emotions, and honor them, yet move past them. I started a story. 

I'm not ready to share it year. Maybe by next 9-11.

I'm curious how to know about your emotional journey on and since 9-11. How did you feel? Would you undo what you felt (I'm not talking about what happened, because I'm going to hope that's a Yes, but the feelings you experienced in response) or are those important for you to remember and hold on to?